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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Vietnam Vets to Hold Conference in Boston Tomorrow

Was Kerry Correct About Vietnam?
Are There Lessons for Iraq?

Conference of Vietnam Veterans and Scholars
to Reexamine Realities of War and Expose Common Myths
at Boston’s Simmons College, 25-29 July

From July 26-29, an unprecedented conference featuring Vietnam veterans who have authored books about the war and other scholars and educators will take place at Boston's Simmons College, just a few short miles from the Democratic National Convention.

As Senator John Kerry is about to be nominated for President, in great part based on his Vietnam service, it is important for the American people to understand what “Vietnam” was really about and to dispel some of the common misconceptions about why we went to war, what we did, what went wrong, and why it mattered.

As other prominent anti-Vietnam activists have noted, John Kerry was the most effective American war protester. His efforts as spokesman for the “Vietnam Veterans Against the War” helped turn Americans against both the war and returning veterans, and his 1971 Senate testimony contributed to the decision by Congress two years later to enact legislation prohibiting the U.S. military from further combat operations to defend the non-Communist countries of Indochina.

Three decades have passed since the last U.S. combat unit withdrew from Vietnam, and the veterans who have organized this conference believe the Kerry candidacy provides an important opportunity for the American people to reexamine the war as well as the way America treated its Vietnam veterans when they came home.

Collectively the panelists have written nearly a score of books and published numerous articles about the war.

Seventeen sessions will address a wide range of subjects, including:

Why and how did America get involved in Vietnam? Were we trying to reimpose French colonialism, to block democracy because we feared Ho Chi Minh would win a free election, or confusing Vietnamese nationalism with international Communism?

How popular was the initial commitment with Congress and the public? Did American presidents take the country to war without the support of Congress or the people?

Was that support obtained by telling “lies”? How do most veterans feel about their service—are they proud or ashamed of what they did?

Were most American servicemen in Vietnam “war criminals” who behaved like “Genghis Khan” and drug addicts who were “stoned twenty-four hours a day”?

Were we wasting American lives trying to prop up a “fascist dictatorship” that imprisoned its critics in “tiger cages,” or were we trying to protect people who wanted freedom from Communist oppression?

What were the human consequences of our decisions both in terms of human lives and human rights?

Why did we lose? Were our forces decisively beaten on the field of battle by the Viet Cong, or were there political factors involved?

What lessons did Congress draw from the experience and how has it influenced subsequent legislative behavior? Did the Church-Pike hearings and the Iran-Contra inquiry contribute to the “risk-avoidance” culture some believe contributed to the failure of the Intelligence community to prevent the 9/11 attacks? What was the impact of post-Vietnam demands by Congress to have greater control over military operations and intelligence activities?

How successfully did Vietnam veterans make the transition back to civilian life after the war? Did they wind up as drug addicts and go to prison in disproportionate numbers for violent crimes? Did any actually succeed in life?

How have our perceptions of the war affected subsequent U.S. policy and public opinion? Did our abandonment of Indochina affect the attitudes and behavior of our nation’s enemies?

How is the war being taught in our schools and colleges?

Are there meaningful parallels between what happened in Vietnam and the current situation in Iraq?

A full list of participants, description of sessions, and times can be found at

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